Prosecutors to wrap up Selena murder case this week
Defense hopes to plug holes punched in its argument
By PATTY REINERT Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle
10:06 PM 10/15/1995
As the second week of the Selena murder trial begins today, defense lawyers hope to fill the gaping holes witnesses have punched into their argument that Yolanda Saldivar was trying to kill herself when she accidentally shot the Tejano star in the back.
Last week, six present and former employees of the Corpus Christi Days Inn where Selena Quintanilla Perez was fatally shot March 31 bolstered the prosecution's position that the killing was intentional.
They testified that, after shooting Selena, Saldivar cursed her and chased her, pointing the gun at her.
The witnesses said the wounded singer ran to the motel lobby, screaming hysterically and begging them to call police and lock the doors because she feared Saldivar would shoot her again. Saldivar, who founded the Selena Fan Club and later helped Selena manage her boutiques, signed a confession several hours after the shooting. If convicted of murder, she faces up to life in prison. In opening statements Wednesday, Saldivar's court-appointed attorney, Doug Tinker, told jurors the gun "went off" accidentally as his client waved it toward Selena while trying to commit suicide.
After the shooting, Saldivar holed up in a pickup in the motel parking lot, and for 9 1/2 hours held off police by pointing the gun to her head every time they approached. Tinker acknowledged the state's witnesses were important to the trial but noted inconsistencies in their testimony and said it remains to be seen whether the jury believes them. "We've always conceded the gunshot that caused the death of Selena was from the weapon held by Yolanda," he said. "These witnesses are important to the state's case, but there will be other witnesses." Assistant District Attorney Mark Skurka compared the discrepancies to four people who witness the same traffic accident and relate four slightly different accounts of it. "They're all telling the truth," he said. "They just saw things a little bit differently."
The most damaging testimony for the defense so far came Thursday afternoon when a motel maid said she heard Saldivar yell, "Bitch," after shooting Selena. The maid, Norma Martinez, as well as two other motel employees testified they heard a gunshot, then saw Saldivar chasing the singer. They described Saldivar as "calm"or "normal" as she stopped and walked back to Room 158. On Friday, three other motel workers said a terrified Selena stumbled into the motel lobby, screaming for them to lock the doors and call police. They each said she identified Saldivar as her attacker, both by name and room number. Police also testified that Saldivar was lucid and calm during her standoff outside the motel but that she became agitated and threatened to kill herself whenever they approached her red pickup.
Testimony is expected this week from police officers who negotiated with Saldivar the night of her standoff and took her statement at police headquarters. Tinker will likely attack any testimony relating to his client's signed confession, which he maintains is, at best, incomplete because it fails to include Saldivar's assertions that the shooting was an accident. Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez predicted the state will finish its case Tuesday or Wednesday, after which Tinker may take center stage. Defense lawyers have so far refused to say whether they will call any witnesses. Asked whether Saldivar will take the stand, Tinker replied, "If I knew for sure, I wouldn't tell you." Tinker also will have the option of recalling three prosecution witnesses -- Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr; her widower, Chris Perez; and her sister Suzette Quintanilla Arriaga -- who took the witness stand Wednesday, the first day of testimony.
At that time, Tinker did not cross-examine the three, saying he would reserve his right to bring them back for questioning later. That tactic has kept all three out of the courtroom because of rules prohibiting witnesses from hearing other testimony until they finish their own. If Tinker does call back Selena's father-manager, he likely will focus on rumors surrounding Quintanilla's relationships with his children. He hopes to convince the jury that there was conflict between the singer and her father and that Quintanilla is an overbearing stage parent whose need to control his daughter created the tension that eventually pushed her toward Saldivar and death.
He also may try to blame Quintanilla for Saldivar's mental state by trying to show she was so terrified of him that she purchased the gun to protect herself from him. The prosecution tried to beat Tinker to the punch last week by asking Quintanilla numerous questions about family relationships and his actions toward Saldivar. He vehemently denied ever threatening Saldivar or her family and repeatedly answered "No sir"when asked whether he had ever hurt her, raped her, had sex with her, cut her with a knife or paid anyone else to do so.